The sometimes angry fued between cabdrivers and federal airport police shifted yesterday from the passenger loading apron at National Airport to a hot, crowded Alexandria courthouse.
U.S. Magistrate Harris Grimsley wound through a docket of 156 cases involving charges against cabdrivers that have grown out of the situation at National - a situation bad enough, according to one police officer, that "I wouldn't want my wife or daughter going to the airport."
The cabdrivers - many of them black and foreign-born - claim they are being subjected to harrassment, verbal abuse, threats and racial slurs by Federal Aviation Administration Police who patrol the loading and unloading zone in front of the terminal.
The drivers charge that one officer, Robert Conrad, has been overzealous in enforcing airport rules that govern where cabs may line up for fares and that prohibit drivers from leaving their cabs in the terminal area.
Driver Edley Dalles, who was found innocent yesterday by Grimsley of a minor offense, testified that Conrad had stuck a gun in his stomach and said, "I'll kil you, you m."
The courtroom erupted with drivers shouting. "That's Conrad, all right."
During court testimony, Conrad said that a chronic violation involved cabdrivers ignoring a sign near the terminal that states "No taxi cabs beyoud this point." Conrad said that on occasion he had blocked the cabs with his police cruiser "so they can't get away" and written five or six summonses at once.
At that, Grimsley, peering over his glasses at Conrad, said in a sarcastic tone: "It's like partridges. You shoot the first one and watch the rest of them fly."
Conrad was responsible for 105 of the 156 cases yesterday. Capt. Robert Morehouse, Conrad's immediate superior, contacted later yesterday, said that the number was unusually high. "Normally no officer has that many cases."
He defended Conrad, however, as merely "overzealous" and said disciplinary action would occur only if a formal complaint were filed.
As the cabdrivers filed into the Alexandria courthouse yesterday morning, a uniformed FAA policeman snapped their pictures. Morehouse later confirmed that the pictures were being taken and said, "They are forour files in case of any incident involving a cabdriver and a policeman. We're not sneaks. We did it openly."
The cabdrivers won a small victory when charges filed against one driver, who said she was beaten on the head and verbally abused by Conrad, were dismissed by Grimsley.
Patricia Hoyta, a driver for White Top Cab, said she was stopped by Conrad at the terminal on July 6 and was beaten with the radio microphone in her cab when a scuffle ensued.
Hoyte, a companion, Bardia Karimian, and Karimian's brother, Daria, all were arrested, charged with assault and held for three hours at an airport holding cell.
The incident has been cited by many of the drivers in making their charges of harassment and abuse.
Both the drivers and police say that the situation is a potentially dangerous one. Conrad has said in an interview that he has pulled his service revolver on cabdrivers on three occasions, and said that many of the drivers are armed.
Conrad also said he has received death threats from drivers and formally asked his superiors for permission to carry his weapon to and from work, a request that was denied.
Conrad yesterday told a reporter that he was not aware of any hostility in the courtroom. "It's just another day in court for me."